Sunday, December 23, 2007

Receiving center to ease the trauma of entry into foster care

Feels like home
Foster Care Advocates make new foster kids’ transition smoother
Ryan, David. Napa Valley Register, Dec. 22, 2007.

A Napa house is soon to become the county’s latest boon for foster children.

With only $1 of government money, a community group called Foster Care Advocates is teaming up with county officials to remodel and run Napa’s first foster care receiving center: A homey place that could lessen the trauma for foster children taken from their homes.

Editor's note: Each December the Register profiles Napa County residents who "share the spirit" - the spirit of community service. The people highlighted in this series of stories may not receive the most awards or honors, but they go out of their way to make lives better for fellow Napans and others.

“When a child is being removed from a home ... that child will be taken to this receiving center and the center will be more like a home,” said Foster Care Advocates leader Jim Asbury, president of Bell Products. “It’ll have a bathroom, a shower, it’ll have a kitchen and it’ll be a safe, neutral spot for the kids to pull their thoughts together before they go to a (foster) home.”

Its address is hidden from the public to protect foster children from their parents.

Often, foster homes aren’t ready when the county is called in to take children away from abusive or neglectful parents. Linda Canan, director of the county’s Child Welfare Services, said in September she remembered a 9-year-old boy who spent a night sleeping in the county’s adult psychiatric unit because there wasn’t a foster home available for him immediately.

“It struck me my first day at work that there was a child sitting in the office at Old Sonoma Road,” she said. “I was asking staff, ‘Why was there a child sitting in the office?’”

Auction Napa Valley awarded $75,000 to Foster Care Advocates in October, money that will be used to operate the center. A remodel worth at least $55,000 was donated by local contractors. Legally, Foster Care Advocates had to charge the county $1 for the contract to be approved by county lawyers.

“We are ready to go, waiting for the county counsel to approve the process,” Asbury said. “It’s an unusual process because of the donated labor and materials. County counsel has to make sure the county is protected and permits are followed.”

Foster Care Advocates is a collection of community members dedicated to reforming the foster care process. Along with Asbury, foster parents and foster care boosters comprise the group, partnering with county Health and Human Services officials and local and state government leaders.

Formed in 2006, Foster Care Advocates is boosting aid and public knowledge about the foster care system. The receiving center will be one of the first brick-and-mortar accomplishments for the group.

Asbury said in the future, the group will focus on providing rest periods for foster parents. That issue, called respite care, is viewed as a key foundation to attracting and retaining sorely needed foster care families.

Foster Care Advocates also want to help foster kids establish better, longer-term relationships with families. “If a child is placed in three of four different foster homes, they don’t have a chance to establish a relationship with anyone,” Asbury said.

The group’s local work comes at a time when the state Legislature is moving to reform the foster care system.

Assemblywoman Noreen Evans said this week lawmakers are motivated to improve the system, though they are not in a position to direct more funding for foster care. Evans sponsored a successful bill last session that helps foster children tap into available federal benefits they might otherwise miss.

She said this year, she hopes lawmakers can take other steps to ease the transition for youth emancipating from the foster care system.


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